Muhammad Ali, the man considered by most boxing experts to be the greatest heavyweight in boxing history and among the greatest pound-for-pound boxers to ever live, died Friday at the age 74. A family spokesperson confirmed his death.
“The Greatest” had been taken to a hospital in Phoenix on Thursday for a respiratory issue and was initially reported to be in fair condition. Two family sources told the Associated Press on Friday afternoon that his condition had worsened and that the former three-time heavyweight champion was “barely breathing.” As Ali’s status became grave into the night, the reality of his imminent passing shook the boxing world to its foundation.
Ali retired from boxing with an overall record of 56-5 with 37 KOs. He was the king of the heavyweights during the “Golden Years” of the division in the 1970s. He fought the best competition the sport had to offer, as he took on Joe Frazier (three times), Ken Norton (three times), George Foreman, Sonny Liston (twice), Floyd Patterson (twice), Jerry Quarry (twice), Bob Foster, Larry Holmes and countless others.
A gold medalist at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, burst onto the scene with his blinding speed and wild trash talk. With a propensity to get under his opponents’ skin, the polarizing pugilist gained as many detractors as he did fans and quickly became the face of the Sweet Science.
Ali conquered the seemingly invincible knockout machine Liston in 1964 to capture the world heavyweight title. He defended it nine times, seven via knockout. However, he became an even more polarizing figure in America when he refused to serve in the U.S. Army upon being drafted. After being arrested and speaking out in a lengthy public protest, Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title and banned from competition.
After being away from boxing for more than three years, Ali was reinstated and began the second phase of his illustrious career. This was when he became an all-time great. His epic war with Frazier at the “Thrilla in Manilla” and his unbelievable knockout of Foreman at the “Rumble in the Jungle” are considered two of the greatest events in boxing history.
Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984, some three years after his retirement, and his health slowly deteriorated over the years. Still, he managed to build his profile as one of the true giants of professional sports through humanitarian efforts around the globe.